Anna LaBella

When Arianna “Anna” Labella first complained of pain in her upper thigh in July 2019, her parents, Jess and Rob, attributed it to growing pains. Just a few days later, a large mass was detected on Anna’s pelvis and she was rushed to Albany Med. “I felt like my world had just crashed beneath me,” says Jess when she remembers that day.

After several days of testing, doctors at Albany Med diagnosed nine-year-old Anna with Ewing sarcoma. This aggressive form of cancer typically occurs in bones or soft tissue surrounding bones. Fortunately, Anna’s cancer was detected early and remained localized in her pelvic bone. Still, Jess describes the first two months of Anna’s treatment as a complete blur. Anna became so sick from the chemotherapy that she spent the majority of those months as an inpatient at Albany Med.

Photo of Anna LaBella on her first day of radiation treatment

It was during that time that Jess and Anna’s two-year-old brother, Carter, found a home away from home at the Ronald McDonald House. Rob made the three-hour round trip from the Utica area as frequently as possible, and once his employer granted him a temporary transfer to Albany, he was able to join his family full-time.

LaBella family photo

“The Ronald McDonald House allowed us to stay together as a family at a time when it would have broken us to be separated. They allowed us to be a family and took care of us during the worst part of our life.”

Jess LaBella, mother of Anna

From that time on, the LaBellas returned to the Albany Ronald McDonald House whenever Anna was receiving treatment at Albany Med. She completed seven weeks of radiation and two additional inpatient stays to finish her chemotherapy. After nearly a year since her original diagnosis, Anna’s most recent tests showed no evidence of disease — she is now cancer-free!

Anna LaBella smiling on her last day of chemotherapy

Through it all, Anna maintained a positive attitude. “She has taken it all in stride, and I am so proud of her,” says Jess. “She’s always smiling, always positive, and always trying to make people laugh. I’m in awe of her. She really is my hero.”

Even in the midst of Anna’s fight, the LaBellas made a point to give back to the House in any way they could. On one occasion, Jess and Rob treated all their fellow guests to a home cooked dinner of regional Utica favorites including chicken riggies and tomato pie.

“We look for any way we can give back and say thank you,” said Jess. “When people donate, I don’t think they understand how much it really does impact families. It is because of them that parents are able to be there for our children. It means the world to those of us who stay here.”